In pursuit of financial independence and personal fulfillment

Financial independence would be a terrible thing to happen to me right now

You read that right. The guy with the blog named I Dream of FIRE doesn’t actually want that dream to come true quite yet.


I fear what would happen if I suddenly came into enough money to be set for life. That kind of life change requires a solid plan to work out well, and right now I don’t have that.

I am not following a path to financial independence and early retirement because I just need an ample war chest to live my dreams. I haven’t the foggiest idea how I would spend my time if I didn’t have to go to work. Make me FI tomorrow and I might end up like so many lottery winners who don’t have need to work or a purpose to fill the time, so they end up in worse shape than before they hit the jackpot.

To be honest, I’m having a bit of a mental crisis about it.

I don’t keep a journal, so this post may be as close as I get to giving voice to these thoughts. Hopefully this will be somewhat comforting to others still early in the journey. For those who have found their “why,” please share in the comments what you are doing or plan to do upon FI or RE.

Sails to the wind

I don’t consider myself a particularly ambitious person. I don’t have an overarching life vision. I don’t have a grand career vision. I don’t get too caught up in titles and trophies. Serendipity has carried me a long way over nearly four decades.

I’ve been asked many times in job interviews where I see myself in five years.

Stop for a second and think about where you were this time five years ago. If someone asked you then where you would be today, how close would your answer be to current reality, both professionally and personally?

It seems a fool’s errand to prognosticate where I’ll be in five years, because at no point would I ever have been in the same ballpark as where I’ve ended up.

I have been blessed that the universe has presented me with opportunities I never would have sought. I’ve moved higher up the company food chain faster than I could have thought possible with very little intention on my part. The places I have worked put me in the positions where my skills were needed at the time.

I have been given a new position every 18 months or so for the past 15 years, usually with added responsibility and higher visibility. That’s all worked out great. I’ve had the skills and done the work to help put me in those positions, but they haven’t been waypoints on any predestined career map.

So what’s the problem?

That all sounds great. I have hopped from job to job, adding value along the way, and then moving on to the next thing. I like that cycle of learning something new.

I’ve been aware of a nagging sense of directionlessness for the past 18 months or so. It’s largely a feeling of “now what?” And I don’t have a good answer.

I really identified with the way this was described by Dominick Quartuccio on the ChooseFI podcast when he talked about drifting.

“Drifting is the state of living where you think you’re making conscious decisions, but you’re actually just kind of meandering through life in this hypnotic rhythm,” he said.

Drifting has worked well for me in the past, but in the present it feels like I should have a direction. Yet I don’t feel inspired toward one.

The pursuit of financial independence is sort of a stand-in goal, a worthwhile activity that will help whatever my future intentions may be, but not the end goal itself.

Quartuccio says often it takes some cataclysmic event to pull people out of the monotony and start to live intentionally. I would prefer to get my stuff together without that catalyst, thank you very much.

My task now is to identify that broader purpose, the things that will excite me and provide a glint in the distance to push toward. I’ve found that more difficult than I would have expected.

A problem of motivation

I’ll say for clarity that I don’t believe this is depression. It feels more like a mix of boredom and a lack of hard motivation to act. My job is stable, and my family is doing just fine financially. I need this change for reasons higher up Maslow’s hierarchy.

Wise people in the FI community (and even the traditional retirement community) say you should retire TO something, not FROM something. Having a strong sense of purpose that isn’t tied to your employment is key to making the transition from employed to retired.

Which is why I can’t see being financially independent tomorrow as something that would be good for me. I’d like to move on FROM something, but I don’t have the TO figured out yet. I know I’m not alone.

I could continue to do what I’m doing, collect a paycheck, come home and do it all over again. But I recognize there’s more out there for me than that. I need the nudge to move my daily needle from existing to excited.

If you’ve been in this situation, I would love to hear how you moved beyond that feeling. Or if you’re in it now, what are you doing to make progress?


  1. MAD

    You sound similar to where I am at this point in time, except I can be FI if I chose. Your story from beginning to end sounds like mine including the emotions. I am looking for that something TO go to. I have been with same company for 23 years and moved progressively through different and higher levels around every 2 years or so all without really trying hard. Now I am at the point where there is nowhere else to go within the company (without giving up my soul…lol) and collecting the pay check is not enough. I started FI as a goal of something to strive for and can now be FI if I cash out and leave but can’t seem to get the motivation to throw it in yet. I’m just existing. It’s not depression or excitement. Can’t figure it out. When you get the answer let me know 🙂

    • I Dream of FIRE

      Spot on, MAD, and thanks for reading. On one hand, it’s like textbook Stoic behavior – not too high or low about anything. There are a bunch of people striving for that. But it’s really the highs and lows that give the middle its charm. Not that we want to experience big lows to better appreciate the middle.

      I’ve listened to several podcasts, read a few books, checked out a bunch of articles. So far I haven’t found the catalyst. One thing I need to try but haven’t yet is something Matt Cutts suggested in a TED talk, which is to try something new for 30 days.

      I would hope that might give me some direction on where I might find something to be excited about. Maybe I should come up with that list and then blog about the experience. It would be content and some public accountability for getting my butt in gear!

      So if you cashed out and left, would you be able to access enough money to explore other options? Maybe a sabbatical or mini-retirement would be an option, but then you gotta figure out how to spend it 🙂

      • MAD

        My spouse still wants to work another few years, so yes there is enough to explore other options without endangering the ability for me to not work again. The focus and challenge was on getting to this point for the last 10 years and now that it’s here….I’m apathetic on what should be next, for myself.
        Like you said, now it’s time to find something to be excited about. I’ve been searching for the catalyst. I’m sure it will come to me. It’s a nice problem to uhave ? I’ve been reading some of Ernie Zelinski’s books which are a great read on the non-financial aspects of retirement.

  2. Mrs Simplest Happiness

    I feel similarly at times, especially I can’t see myself just doing “nothing” or only fun things when FIRE. Not having enough time with our kids now provides me with the desire to be around them more and I think that’s enough “purpose” while they are little but once they grow up more, they’ll still be in school most of the day so I also wonder what I would do: perhaps get involved with the local community and volunteer more ( not exactly sure what specifically this would be), volunteer at their schools and also being able to take care of elderly parents will be important for me. Thanks for the post – I think a lot of people feel similarly.

    • I Dream of FIRE

      I almost wonder if this is more pronounced in people who kind of have their stuff together financially. Obviously it’s not exclusive to that group, but many people can get quick fixes on the consumer hamster wheel and not notice the deeper question. Or getting out of debt can be an incredible driver for that short-term (hopefully) answer.

      But once you’ve got everything in place to build long-term security it’s just a matter of waiting it out. Maybe that’s when the holes are easier to see?

      I do want to do some volunteering to try that on for size. I’ve done a little here and there, but that’s always a good thing to do more of!

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